The Garden in September…
There have been some glorious summer days with an autumnal tinge recently- fine hot sunshine but cool in the shadows. Beautiful weather for working in the garden! Which is just as well, as there is a great deal to do!
August & September are often difficult months for maintaining borders so that they look luxuriant and colourful- the foliage of earlier summer perennials is starting to fade or turn brown, flower heads need removing because they are brown and unsightly (even though some are kept for seed) and there is generally a ‘tired’, and ‘going over’ feel to the garden. That is of course unless a definite effort has been made to plan for longer lasting colour and to remove fading plants- as, of course, the gardeners at the Wakes try diligently to do!! Several of my private clients pride themselves in the quality of their autumn gardens and achieve a wonderful display with Dahlias, Phlox, modern repeat flowering roses, perennial verbenas, hardy geraniums (cut down once) Japanese anemones, fuchsias and a sprinkling of annuals or tender perennials such as busy lizzies and tuberous begonias. Incidentally do you have trouble spelling Fuchsia? (I always get the ‘s’ in the wrong place!) or Ginkgo? (I always get that one wrong, it’s that extra g) Or even Aubrieta? (who remembers to put the i in?) In the eighteenth century many of these flowers had not yet been introduced (just as well as some are so difficult to spell!!) although there were plenty of annuals (many of which uncommon today) that could be had in flower in August & early September. Millers Garden Kalendar has three pages (about 250) of plants in flower in August but half that number for September… of those a hundred or so September plants listed, Gilbert mentions about thirty, or a third.
In the Dining room shrubbery at the moment the willow herbs, the common purple-pink, the pink stahl rose and the white are mostly faded and gone and need to be cut down before the seed spreads everywhere. Down by the groundsel bush (Now is the ideal time for cuttings!!) the frilly pink flowers of the Dianthus ‘Rainbow Loveliness’ provide a nice feature: but there is a great deal of weeding to be done around here! There are still flowers, although many have faded, on the catmint by the old back door: a further cut back may produce a few late flowers at the end of the season. The tobacco plants by the magnolia have grown tremendously, and are now about 4ft tall. Hollyhocks are now starting to go over- cutting the main flowering stem sometimes, weather permitting, brings some late flowers. Banksian roses need pruning and in the case of the one hard pruned earlier this year, tying in. sadly in this dry season the mildew has affected quite badly. Not surprising it seems, my book on diseases says ‘roses in dry sheltered sites such as against walls are particularly prone’. One thing for sure, climbing ladders and spraying with fungicide is neither desirable or practical!
In the sunflower & marigold bed opposite sadly only one sunflower has survived the wind and rain- and in some cases too tight ties to stakes which needed loosening. Still the marigolds look good, the annual chrysanths are just taller than the African marigolds, which in turn are only just taller than the dwarf sunflower ‘Pacino’. I see that dwarf sunflowers are being grown in the field margins at Hartley Park farm, they look wonderful en-masse! The French marigolds are bright and cheerful and the creeping zinnias with their miniature sunflower blooms are enjoying the recent sun and heat by spreading nicely. Annuals in pots nearby include the red-purple amaranth ‘Opopeo’, deep red sweet scabious, some lovely larkspur and the purple hawkweed, now going to seed which needs collecting.
The old musk rose still has plenty of bloom, but most of the other roses are now out of flower, an odd late bloom occurring here and there. The hollyhocks still have some colour, and the SE quarter is full of brightly coloured annuals: including spider flowers (Cleome spinosa) in shades of purple-pink and some white. This is not an annual mentioned by Gilbert White, and although it was introduced in the 1730’s it seems from Miller’s garden dictionary it was regarded as a greenhouse plant: Gilbert had no greenhouse, and therefore, no Cleomes. It was probably not commonly available anyway; it is not listed by John Harvey as being available from nurseries in the late eighteenth century. What a shame- I’m sure Gilbert would have enjoyed it as we, and our visitors do today- it generates a lot of interest as an unusual plant! Other colourful plants in the SE quarter include larkspur- the deep purple one is particularly fine- and red and white wall valerian (Centranthus) . There’s a late flower on Patty’s plum Oriental poppy (Papaver orientale) this is a modern hybrid of the plant that was introduced around 1814 and described by Miller as the same colour as our corn poppy, Papaver rhoeas, a bright orange red. Patty’s Plum is a much more sophisticated purplish colour! On the tripods the painted lady sweet peas have done well, a mass of pink & white flowers, and the cup & saucer vines are just opening their unusual flowers. A late introduction, this species was introduced in 1792, a year before Gilbert died. If he had known it, I’m sure he would have loved it!
There are now too many new flowers to make notes on! The 5ft high orange flowered Tithonia , or Mexican sunflower, makes a fine display in the annual garden alongside larkspur and spider flowers which have not stood up as well to the wind and rain as the Tithonia, but are nevertheless colourful. Marvel of Peru make progress for an autumn display in the back border, and china asters make a brave display beyond the tithonia, by which they are somewhat dwarfed! Some of the nearby pear trees have a good crop, but by no means all. The rose quarters have been weeded and cleared of some of the rampant interplanting: they look a great deal better, as does the newly planted autumn quarter (SW) where the autumn crocus or Colhicum pink flowers are now emerging without leaves: Gilbert White’s ‘Naked Boys’. Giant Catmint and Verbascum are also in flower here. The Giant reed quarter has everlasting peas in bloom, a good late season flower mentioned by Miller, alongside hollyhocks and cardoons and, of course, the giant grass shoots of Arundo donax.
In the herb garden, both summer and winter savory are in bloom (pale pink and white flowers respectively, and the Clary sage with its spikes of white, purple and blue flowers make a grand show. Everything has grown tremendously since we last weeded and tidied here (what a year for growth August has been!) and more work is needed: as I often point out though, it is a very pleasant warm place to work on an autumn day! Proceeding out of the herb garden to the pond garden we have a new feature- a marvellous wooden ramp on top of the brick steps to make access by wheel chairs etc much easier. Cleverly built by Arnold out of decking, it should last many years.
In the kitchen garden all is in good order, with edges clipped, onions being harvested, leeks planted (about 300 to date!) and some good large orange pumpkins swelling daily. Some painted lady sweet peas at the top of the garden are in flower. The sea kale is a fine blue grey colour, and the skirret and liquorice are growing well. Elsewhere lettuce, radish and rocket crops are germinating well. A lone shoo fly plant makes a fine display of blue flowers in an empty plot. The raspberries, although off to a slow start, are now all growing, with the exception of one plant- although there is signs of deer damage to the canes. A line of parsnips promise well for winter harvesting. A crop of turnips and cabbages has been protected with a hand-made net. Crops of peas and beans have suffered at the activities of pests, but squashes are growing well. The hot beds have produced a good many cucumbers for use in the tea parlour, there have been quite a few small melons, but these have been eaten by slugs or mice or both. All in all not a bad hot bed season.
In the cutting beds there are two sorts of English marigold (including the touch of red variety) and white, red, pink and blue cornflowers for cutting. There’s a pale pink fig leaved hollyhock here and we’ve sown sweet William seed. These beds still need quite a bit of maintenance, but species Dahlias are coming on nicely and, as always there are plenty of blue globe thistles which I hope are useful for cutting but would welcome the comments of the flower arrangers amongst you!